Tool Roundup Part 2: Making Online Lessons…Online

cwNOTE: this post was written in August 2014, but has been languishing, unseen, in my ‘Drafts’ folder since then.  As a result, it’s probably very out of date by now – technology years are like dog years – but it may still have some merit!

In part 2 of my ocassional ‘Tools Roundup’ serties,  I’m going to look at a couple of tools that teachers can use to make their own online learning resources / lessons / activities.  As with part one of this series, these tools need to hit certain criteria in order to be considered:

  • They are free to use (or have a free basic account)
  • They are easy to use – so if you only have enthusiasm but no IT skills, you can use them without throwing your laptop out of the window in frustration.

Here at Cardiff, as with many educational institutions in the UK, the free online resource-authoring tool of choice is Xerte, and there is nothing wrong with that.  Indeed, I have been using Xerte on and off for several years now, and it’s pretty good (plus objects can be published in a variety of formats, making them playable on any device, be it a computer, tablet or smartphone).  However, it can look a bit intimidating to those who have enthusiasm, but not much in the way of experience, confidence or time.  This is why I’m looking at these alternatives, the first of which is:

Tool #1: TED Ed

This is a very quick and easy way to produce a stylish, interactive online lesson or resource.  Simply pick a film on TED Talk or YouTube to centre your online lesson around, copy the film’s link and a framework for constructing a lesson is provided. Adds your own text, questions and discussion headings, press a button, generate a link and you’re done.  This does mean you are tied to whatever happens to be on TED or YouTube (so it may well be that there is nothing there that quite ‘fits’), and although I do like TED…and I know that this may not go down too well with some fans…I do find it all a bit evangelical and smug sometimes. Sorry.

I have made a very quick and dirty lesson about Genetics (and called it part one of three. I like to set myself unobtainable goals by thinking I’ll have time to make parts 2 and 3, when really, all I want to do in my spare time at the moment is ride my bike and eat ice cream).  In this instance I have chosen to make my lesson public: though when you do sign up for a free TED Ed account, can make a lesson and you can choose to keep it private, so only those who you choose to share a link with can access it.  Here’s Genetics Part 1:

Tool#2: Versal

This tool is very new, so still in Beta stage, and provides users with a very clean and simple interface based around dragging and dropping customisable gasgets (such as text areas, quizzes, surveys, videos and Prezi presentations) on-screen, then adding content via a very basic WYSIWYG editor. This makes for a very logical and visually engaging experience – you start, effectively, with a blank canvas then build your content using these gadgets as digital ‘Lego’ blocks. Content can then be published and made avaialble as a URL or embedded into a VLE or blog.  Paid membership as a single user or an institution also gives the user the ability to publish content as SCORMs

Versal have added a really nifty collabroation feature that allows users to work together to create courses and lessons. I’ve not tried this yet, so don’t know if this happens synchronously or whether only one user can contribute at a time, but I’ll be checking this out later.

I mentioned a few of the gadgets avaialble to users a little earlier, and will admit that in the short course I’ve made while learning how Versal works, I have stuck to the very basics: text, video, multiple choice quiz and survey.  There are many, many more examples of gadgets such as interactive diagrams and maps, an anatomy gadget (which I am going to have to look at, as it could be especially useful in my line of work), and several that do look a little tricky to figure out…

Here’s that short course I mentioned.  Surprisingly, it’s called Doctor Who 101… Oh – bear in mind that you need to set up an account to view the course.

Tool#3: Office Mix

Another tool still in its Beta stage, Office Mix is a free bolt-on for Microsoft PowerPoint.  Download it here and, once installed, you will find your copy of PowerPoint now includes a shiny new ‘MIX’ tab.  You can now add screen recordings, voiceovers, videos, polls, true and false / multiple choice / free response questions and a whole ranfege of nifty things.  student analytics can be recorded, presentations published as SCORM packages and the finished content can be accesseds on any device, be it a Windows-based laptop or a smartphone running iOS.

This is ideal if you are already familiar with PowerPoint (and as it’s ubiquitous, there’s every chance that you are) but not so familiar with the software used to build online resources.  It’s free, it’s very easy to use…but it is only available to those who use Windows-based machines, so if you’re running Office for Mac on your MacBook, you won’t be able to download or use Office Mix.  With Office 2016 for Mac coming out at the end of the year, I can only hope that this issue is fixed.

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